The Progressive Post

“The management of intellectual inequalities is the greatest challenge of the 21st century”

Interview with Laurent Alexandre on the AI influence on the development of human potential and its impact on inequalities.

04/02/2019

Artificial Intelligence is at the heart of the digital revolution. Will it help to reduce inequalities? Its influence on the development of human potential is underestimated as are its very real impacts on education and health. Interview by Alain Bloëdt, Editor-in-Chief of The Progressive Post, with Laurent Alexandre.

The Progressive Post: Will the digital revolution reduce or increase inequalities?
Laurent Alexandre: It all depends which inequalities. Intellectual disparities are much greater than physical ones, and produce much greater inequalities. It’s for this reason that income disparities are much greater in the 21st century than they were in the 20th century. A skilled Artificial Intelligence (AI) engineer can earn several million dollars a month.

PP: What causes such disparities?
LA: The gaps are huge because the intelligence economy is a very scalable economy. If you are a good removal man, you will earn twice as much as a bad removal man. If you are an excellent AI expert, you will be able to help Facebook attract 100 million users, which are worth tens of billions of dollars.

PP: Can this same technology not help to reduce these intellectual inequalities?
LA: No, there exists no technology capable of increasing cognitive abilities , especially that of those who are less gifted. In the 21st century, we can redistribute money through the welfare state and social security, not IQ points. That is why I believe that the management of intellectual inequalities is the greatest challenge of the 21st century.

PP: Is education not the key?
LA: There is a common belief that school is able to reduce all non-genetic inequalities. Sadly this is a well-meaning but false assumption. By making university more accessible and giving everyone a secondary school diploma, we think we have democratised intelligence, but all we have done is open the doors to everyone, which is not quite the same.

PP: Can we genuinely not do anything, or don’t we want to?
LA: We just do not know. But if we continue to ignore genetic determinism, we won’t be able to set up educational research programmes to overcome it in the future, as we did for many health determinisms. Since 1960, for breast cancer research alone, we must have invested over $100 billion, but nowhere near that much on educational research. Health and education are the two main pillars of the 21st century. We do spend a lot on education, but not on its research.

PP: Is the world burying its head in the sand?
LA: With new personalised therapies, you can spend several thousands of dollars a year on a person with cancer. When a child is not gifted and finds themselves “intellectually handicapped” compared to the AI of 2050, how much will be spent then? Nothing! There’s a flaw in the reasoning.

PP: Is increasing skills the only possible option to save workers?
LA: Companies will adapt without problem, they are resilient. The difficulty lies with the employees. I am talking, in particular, about employees who do not know how to read and write well. In France, one in three children leaving school is unable to summarise a five-line text. The same can be observed in Italy and in most countries.

PP: Is professional mobility a solution?
LA: Many believe that we will indeed change jobs regularly. That’s fine when you’re part of the elite and enjoy the training textbooks, but when you’re less gifted, the idea of having to relearn everything every seven years is very daunting.

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